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Could Champagne soon stop producing champagne?

Chardonnay grapes on a vine for Champagne wine in a vineyard during a heatwave in Ludes, central France, on September 8, 2023.
Francois Nascimbeni
/
AFP via Getty Images
Chardonnay grapes on a vine for Champagne wine in a vineyard during a heatwave in Ludes, central France, on September 8, 2023.

Updated January 22, 2024 at 12:05 PM ET

The taste of champagne as we know it could change beyond recognition in the coming years. As global temperatures continue to rise, the climate crisis poses a threat to the production of wine.

The supply of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, among other popular wine-making grapes, are at risk, according to new data from a Silicon Valley startup Climate Ai.

"By 2050, we're looking at about 85% of the lands that we grow good wine grapes on, actually no longer producing suitable wine grapes" Jasmine Spiess, the company's head of wine and events, told NPR's Morning Edition.

Grapes are susceptible to even the most subtle changes in weather.

"Wine is kind of the canary in the coal mine for climate change impacts on agriculture because so much of the character of wine is tied to the local climate" said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Cook published a paperin 2020 examining the effects of climate change on agriculture and how the diversity of grapes can increase their resilience to such changes.

He adds that scientists are "seeing pretty much all plants, including wine grapevines, start their lifecycle in the growing season earlier, and oftentimes finish up earlier. You basically ripen your fruit earlier and typically you harvest earlier."

With climate volatility, harvesting of grapes is looking different. In the Champagne region of France, these changes can alter the distinctive personalities of grapes grown there.

"If it matures too quickly, the ratio of acidity and sugar might be different," Cook said.

A grape's qualities are dependent on its environment. With a warming planet, it's harder to produce grapes that make champagne taste sweeter and boozier.

"For instance, in a chardonnay grape, what you're looking for in a cooler climate is generally a taste that's apple or a little citrusy, whereas in a warmer climate the warmth can change the grapes qualities to be more like a tropical fruit, or even banana-like" said Spiess.

One of the many ways farmers and winemakers are trying to mitigate the effects of climate change on grape production is site selection.

"Places like Belgium and the Netherlands and Sweden, they're experiencing positive effects of climate change as the planet is warming" Spiess said.

As different regions in the world experience the effects of climate change differently, they may start to have more optimal climate conditions for wine making.

The downside for those Swedish winemakers? If those champagne grapes aren't grown in the Champagne region of France, you can't call it Champagne, which is a protected designation of origin.

So how do you say "bubbly" in Swedish?

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Iman Maani
Iman Maani is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. She began her journalism career at Member station NCPR in Canton, New York. She has also worked on the political docu-series, Power Trip, that covered the midterm elections. Iman is a graduate from St. Lawrence University.

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